Last Action Hero

Jack Slater is one badass LAPD cop. Built like an oak with an attitude to match, he beats up thugs by the dozen, can hit any little thing with his guns and make it instantly explode, and can get out of any deadly situation without a scratch. Heck, he’s the kind of action hero you see in movies. And what do you know, he’s actually just that! Slater is a popular character portrayed by none other than Arnold Schwarzenegger, and the fourth film of the series is about to be released. Young Danny Madigan is totally subdued by these kick ass movies. Living in a crummy New York apartment with his divorced mother, Danny sure needs escapism, which he finds by watching his favorite action hero blazing away bad guys in exotic locales with beautiful women on his arm. And then one day, as he watches “Jack Slater IV” before it’s released thanks to an old projectionist friend, he’s sucked into this movie universe through the mystical power of a golden ticket which belonged to the great Harry Houdini.

Right. You see, that’s where the movie screws up. For the first thirty minutes or so, “Last Action Hero” is vintage macho Schwarzenegeger. His Jack Slater is brave and arrogant, defying death while uttering not that witty one-liners. The action scenes are fun and inventive, as they are directed by one of the masters of the genre, John McTiernan, who directed two of my favorite movies whatsoever, “Die Hard” and “Predator”. The cinematography is gorgeous, the editing is sharp, and Ah-nuld is at the top of his game. I just love the opening, in which he has a rooftop showdown with Jack the Ripper on Christmas eve, or a fantasy sequence with Schwarzenegger as a butt-kicking Hamlet! I also dig how the film satirizes action movies stereotypes, as Jack Slater IV kick off with a caricatural Italian mobster (the great Anthony Quinn) and his henchman, an European gentleman sniper with a colorful glass eye, capture and torture to death Slater’s cousin. You gotta chuckle when Slater goes back home with grocery bags and finds his cousin with just the strength to say a few crucial last words before passing away. Now it’s personal! Other great, explosive scenes include a madcap car chase scored on AC DC’s Big Gun, a shoot-out at Slater’s ex-wife’s place and a Mob funeral disrupted by Slater, climaxing with our hero hanging from a crane with the corpse! And there’s plenty of amusing little touches poking fun at movie conventions and cliches. So far so good.

And then it happens, they throw a stupid kid into this potentially great movie and have him whine and ruin the whole thing. That leads to a few funny moments, but to even more frustrating scenes. We want action and one-liners, not cheesy family stuff! The worst thing is when the kid (played by Austin O’Brien) takes Jack Slater back to the “real” world of the dirty streets of New York City, where not everything works out according to script and where even heroes can hurt and die. It’s a more or less interesting idea, with the cartoonish Slater learning to become more human and stuff. But it so belongs in another movie! I mean come on, we’re all pumped up by the over-the-top action sequences from the “movie world”, and now we’re expected to sit and watch Schwarzenegger become sensitive and listen to Mozart? Not on my watch, palooka. “Last Action Hero” remains good entertainment, it’s just too bad it didn’t stick to the near-brilliance of its early set pieces instead of trying to reinvent the genre.